Oops, you missed a scratch on the roof

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By Christopher Elliott

When an Enterprise employee points to a scratch on the roof of Sandy Lamke’s rental car, she’s assured the company won’t charge her for the damage. But it does. Now, despite her efforts to have the bill withdrawn, Enterprise insists she pay up. Should she?

Question

I hope you can help me with a dubious repair bill I received. I rented a car from Enterprise in Newark recently. We did a cursory walk-around inspection with the agent in the rain.

The agent did not mark the “no damage” box on the contract, but I did not see any damage, either. When I returned the car three weeks later in Manhattan, the Enterprise employee did not tell us there was damage, but a supervisor told me there was a scratch on the roof. I couldn’t see it until I opened the car door and stood on the sill.

I told the supervisor I had never been asked to check the roof on a rental car, and that the Newark agent had not asked me to. The supervisor said she “agreed with me” regarding the agent error and would ask her regional manager to help us out. They promised to call us back within 48 hours. No one called.

We received a bill for $600. It includes three days of loss-of-use and eight hours of repair work for something that definitely does not need fixing, and that we did not cause. When I asked for documentation, the recovery agent sent me pictures of long, wide scratches on two different cars, not the car we returned. This is truly an attempt to rip off the customer! — Sandy Lamke, Mill Valley, Calif.

Answer

That must have been some scratch on the roof! If the Enterprise supervisor had discovered the damage, they would have asked you to sign a form acknowledging the scratch and agreeing to pay for it. After that, the car rental company should have sent you a repair bill and documentation, including a photo of the car. Not any car.

Your skepticism about the $600 repair bill was justified, especially considering it was apparently done to another car. Based on what you told me about the damage, I think the bill you received was a little high, if not entirely unwarranted. Also, the supervisor gave you a reason to think the scratch existed before you rented the car. The wrong-car photo only reinforced your belief that the bill was bogus.

These frivolous damage claims are nothing new to the car rental industry. Sometimes, I think car rental companies aren’t even in the business of renting cars. It is in business of making money from damage claims. Interestingly, several car rental firms have begun photographing their cars before renting them. A measure that should dramatically cut back on the number of wrongful claims by car rental companies. (Related: Is Enterprise trying to “scam” her for damage she didn’t do?)

Resolving a dubious Enterprise car repair bill

I like the way you handled the initial problem. The most effective way to get your bill adjusted is by speaking with a supervisor. If Enterprise had followed up with a promised call, you might be free and clear now. I’m not entirely sure why it didn’t phone you back. (Here’s what you need to know before you rent your next vehicle.)

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When the bill arrived, you had a few options. Initiating a polite dispute, which would likely have led to a dismissal if someone had carefully considered your claim, and if that failed, escalating the matter to Enterprise at the corporate level with copies to the insurance commissioner in the state the car was rented in, could have been effective. As a last resort, disputing your credit card bill or taking Enterprise to small claims court to recover the $600 could have been pursued.

Fortunately, it never came to that. I contacted Enterprise on your behalf, and it dropped its claim.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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